Although I do not customarily engage in structured debates online, preferring to write proactively rather than reactively, I do occasionally post polemics, and replies to letters. It seems to me that a debate is only a hair removed from such things, inasmuch as it is effectively a polemic in which the opposing party is given opportunity to respond. Given that I have been asked on a number of occasions for real-world examples of my apologetic encounters, and it seems to me worthwhile to have at least some examples available here to supplement my instructive works, this will be the first of possibly many debates which I will publish.
Since Frank Walton has stated that he will not engage atheist blogger “Angels Depart” in a planned debate on the existence of God, due to Angels Depart not honoring the request for a moderated forum, I have therefore taken this opportunity to represent the biblical position in Frank’s place. Hopefully it is obvious that I do not speak as Frank, and that he and I may differ on certain points of theology. I am simply taking his place in representing the affirmative position, so as to allow the debate to proceed unmoderated. Angels Depart will post his statements on his blog; I will post my responses here. Since I will intentionally abbreviate quotes in order to save space, please be certain to read Angels Depart’s statements in full on his own blog, so as to be sure that their context is understood. His position may not be accurately and fully represented in the quotes I select, since I am using them only as refreshers and not full explications of his own position.
Click here for Angels Depart’s opening statement; below is my response (this was originally posted as a comment on Angels’ blog; had I initially written it as an opening statement I would have done it a little differently)—
Hello Angels. You say,
The arguments for God are typically from emotion and introspection rather than from any sort of empirical evidence.
However, you then proceed to introduce your topic by making an introspective and obviously passive-aggressive commentary regarding the history and motivation of religion, without citing any kind of empirical evidence for your various claims. Your little dissertation sounds rather like a conspiracy theory, starting with an obvious falsehood (“the arguments for God are typically from emotion and introspection”), moving directly into implicit and unjustified premises (that arguments for God should be empirical in nature; and that empirical arguments are sound), and then proceeding on to provide a speculative, unsubstantiated, and frankly bizarre explanation of the topic at hand. You don’t lend yourself any credibility by being a hypocrite.
the topic of whether or not god exist is nearly an impossible question to tackle. You are being asked to disprove the existence of something that has absolutely no proof for its existence in the first place.
Firstly, it amazes me that you would enter into a debate on the existence of God, but start it by assuming your own conclusion. The very question at hand is as to whether there is any proof for the existence of God! Are you not concerned that, by taking such a simplistic and childish approach to the topic, you will be exposed as a fool when your opponent offers some proofs for God’s existence?
Secondly, what relationship does the alleged lack of proofs for God’s existence have with the possibility of proofs for his non-existence? To offer an empirical analogy, there is no proof that light has mass; yet there is plenty of proof that it does not.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF RELIES SOLELY ON THE PERSON MAKING THE FANTASTIC OR OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM!
Accepting this for now (though it is not a law of logic, but rather a convention of debate), how do you know that it is the Christian who is making the fantastic or outrageous claim, and not yourself? It is my contention that atheism is a claim so fantastic and outrageous that the Christian need not offer any proof for his position; but rather, he need simply destroy the atheistic worldview and leave the biblical one standing in its place, to be assumed by merit of its obvious truth. If you wish to assert that your claim, that God does not exist, is reasonable, and that the Christian’s claim is unreasonable, then you must actually demonstrate this instead of just assuming it without proof. Since you have already accepted a formal debate on the topic, you have implicitly acknowledged in so doing that both positions require equal scrutiny.
The various assertions you’ve made so far seem basically to undermine the entire formal debate process. This leads me to the suspicion that you are simply unequipped from an intellectual and/or argumentative point of view to actually engage anyone in such a debate.
Then it spends another 500 pages or so citing the Bible as “empirical proof” of the validity of God’s existence. It seems that it failed McDowell’s logic that this is what is commonly referred to as circular reasoning.
What is circular about citing historical records in support of a premise? Is it circular reasoning to cite Plato’s Apology in support of the existence of Socrates? Certainly, our single extant copy of that work, separated in origin from the events it describes by over half a century, is far less reliable than the hundreds of accurate biblical records we have, which are further corroborated by secular records and archeology. You are assuming the consequent again; your reasoning essentially is: God does not exist; the Bible attests to God’s existence; therefore the Bible is not an accurate record. But again, this is the very question at hand, and if the Bible is an accurate record, then it does constitute empirical evidence for God’s existence. The precise nature of that evidence should probably be debated, but to simply dismiss it reveals a strong prejudicial assumption which is completely contrary to the intent of the debate. If you are going to refuse the Bible as an empirical proof, then you must explain why. Since its accuracy can be established extremely strongly, I would suggest that you will have to appeal to historical skepticism, which makes any historical proof impossible—but that could have unfortunate consequences for your position as well, as I will mention below.
Yet there are so many things in this world that are in such conflict with the type of God that the Christians try to present to the world. For example, if Christianity is the only true religion and the only true path to heaven, then what does God do about the millions of people that were born in regions of the world where Christianity will never even be heard of? Are those people doomed to hell simply through their geographical place of birth?
Yes they are. Where is the inconsistency which you claim exists in this example? If you are going to claim that inconsistencies exist between the biblical worldview and the state of the world, or within Scripture itself, then you need to actually show it. But you have simply made some kind of vague assertion, which suggests more about your ignorance of biblical doctrine than the possible inconsistencies therein.
The countless biblical inconstancies are hard to reconcile as well. There are so many clearly violent and horrific acts in the Bible that it makes one wonder where the idea of a loving and forgiving God came from. If the Bible is proof of god’s existence then it would certainly be reasonable to assume that the god the Bible would prove to be real would certainly not be the god that the Christians are trying to present to us.
Firstly, let us be done with the “what Christians are trying to present to us” line, and stick carefully to what the Bible presents about God. Many people claim to be Christians but have utterly no idea who God is. So, secondly, can you please explain the inconsistency you perceive between God’s actions toward man, recorded in Scripture, and God’s character, also recorded in Scripture? God is certainly loving and forgiving, but he is also holy and righteous, just and jealous, and wrathful toward sin. Your argument appears to hinge upon a misrepresentation (or at least a misunderstanding) of God’s character. A correct understanding of both theology proper, and anthropology, will reveal no inconsistency whatsoever. Rather than engage in an extensive detour so as to educate you to the point where you are competent to engage in a debate which you have already accepted, I would direct you toward a series I have written titled ‘On Strawmen’, which should adequately correct your misconceptions about biblical teaching.
The facts remain that every religion, including one’s that were in existence before Christianity have similar types of myths. These range from creation and flood stories to virgin births and ressurections of their saviors. It seems that there is not much to set Christianity apart from other religions of the world, past or present.
This is a large area of study, and one in which you are apparently ignorant if you are seeking to use it in defense of the secular position. The existence of flood myths in various cultures constitutes a compelling proof for the actual occurrence of the flood described in Genesis. You are presupposing that all these myths are simply invented, which is clearly a far more extraordinary claim than to suppose they all have a common basis in fact. As for virgin births and resurrections of saviors, these are neither strong similarities, nor proof that Christianity copied other religions (I presume this is your implicit allegation). The causation could be completely opposite that which you suppose: ie, these other religions could have copied Christianity. Indeed, in cases where copying does appear evident (such as in the oft-cited example of Mithraism), archeological and historical evidence shows clearly that the copying was from Christianity to the other religion. Of course, this argument you’re making relies on the possibility of proving anything from history, which in turn gives us leave to examine the powerful evidence for the accuracy of the Bible as an historical record, which I mentioned previously.
I believe that religion can be of value to societies. It gives people with subpar intelligence the motivation to keep living, working and producing for their society. It has some vague moral values with a punisher that will be watching you even when no other person is. The idea that God is necessary for moral behavior is not necessarily true. The basis for what we refer to as moral behavior was developed through a meme as a means of survival.
You seem to think that Christians are always of subpar intelligence. Yet, I have shown so far that your opening statement is replete with logical fallacies, errors, and unjustified assertions, and virtually devoid of any genuine logical reasoning whatsoever. So, at best, you would appear to be on the same level as you allege for these Christians. That said, this is an obvious example of argumentum ad hominem, and, even if true, proves nothing whatsoever about the truth of Christianity. Certainly there are some stupid Christians (at least by your measure of stupidity); yet equally you will be forced to acknowledge that there are many stupid atheists (yourself included, as I have shown). However, given the abundance of believers in the high ranks of academia, past and present, it is simply absurd to claim that Christianity is applicable to only those of subpar intelligence. I would offer that John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Gordon Clark, or Vincent Cheung are not the sorts of people anyone could call stupid without being mocked.
Further, how do you know that Christianity has some “vague moral values”, and that “the idea that God is necessary for moral behavior is not necessarily true”? What moral standard are you using to make such an allegation? What proof do you have that moral behavior was “developed through a meme as a means of survival”? You are again begging the question, thus basing your argument upon the very conclusion you are trying to prove. This would appear to be a very embarrassing thing for you to be doing, considering the way in which you lambast Josh McDowell for that exact fallacy (worse, in fact, since it is far from clear that McDowell actually commits that fallacy in the way you claim!)
If you look at what we call moral behavior, it is nothing more than actions that make survival of a group more likely.
Firstly, in order to draw the conclusion that this shows that moral behavior evolved, one would first have to assume evolutionary theory—at which point, you’re effectively begging the question. It could, of course, equally be the case that the causality goes the other way: that is, that killing, raping, stealing and so on are evil because God has given human life a certain value, and these things are destructive to life.
Secondly, neither your own view of morality, nor the biblical one (and they are quite different) comports with evolutionary theory in any case. For example, in your case, from an evolutionary point of view survival of the group is the ultimate good, and there is no means which is not acceptable to this end. Therefore, there is no reason for individuals to not suffer, or for other groups to not be entirely destroyed, if it furthers this end. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, an evolutionist can certainly not criticize Stalin or Hitler (or war in general), since they were simply working to achieve the end of the survival of their groups, at the expense of others. Evolutionary theory, in fact, makes the concept of morality quite unintelligible, and one of the approaches I would take in refuting your worldview would be in showing this at more length.
The biblical view of morality also does not comport with evolutionary theory; or, more precisely, it comports far better with a state of affairs where God actually exists. Consider, for example, the first three of the ten commandments: to have no other God, to make no idols, and to not take the name of God in vain. These are the first of the commandments—what survival advantage do they convey? The only possible answer I can see is if you suppose that it is to encourage the cohesion of the group under a single religion. But if this is the case, then you have no basis to criticize this system of morality (yet atheists frequently do). If it is an evolutionary system, then an evolutionist ought to approve the actions of the Israelites in destroying other cultures, and killing those of their own people who disobeyed the commandments. Strangely, few evolutionists take this position. This highlights an inconsistency that belies the real state of affairs, and puts you in a catch-22: either you should accept biblical morality, or you should come up with another theory about how morality works. Secular humanism asserts the equal rights and inherent value of all human beings—which is a decidedly un-evolutionary sort of moral assertion. It also relies on some kind of concept of “rights” and “value” which simply doesn’t exist in a materialist, evolutionary worldview.
The true difference between science and religion is that science is willing to say “this is our best theory, and we are willing to research it and change if need be” were as Christians tend to say “This is the truth, you are either with us or against us.”
But what does this prove? Your statement seems to suppose an implicit moral judgment, which is that science is superior to Christianity by reason of its ability to admit when it is wrong. But consider:
Firstly, you are supposing that Christianity is wrong, and that it refuses to admit it. Again, this is really the very question at hand, so you are again question-begging.
Secondly, you are supposing that science’s “flexibility” makes it a superior method of discovering truth. But the very basis for this supposed flexibility is the fact that, so far, it has always been wrong, and has had to revise its theories for this reason. In other words, you are claiming that a method which openly results in error, and which can never prove that it is right even if it is, is a superior knowledge-acquisition process to that of divine revelation, which is never wrong and never needs revision!
If it can be proven that Jesus is the one true god, then I would have no choice but to follow him. Unfortunately all I have found in the followers of Jesus is fanaticism, a lack of willingness to seek knowledge or reason, hate, un-acceptance,name calling and bigotry. I understand that it is an exclusive club, but if you want to leave everyone out then you need to stop insisting that everyone comes in!
What does the behavior of Jesus’ followers have to do with the truth of his claims? I have personally met a lot of Christians, and most have been moderate, intelligent people with an enthusiasm for knowledge and reason—an enthusiasm informed by a proper understanding (albeit often an implicit one) of the underlying issues of epistemology, which are critical to any pursuit of these things. They are certainly not hateful (unless you mean they hate sin), unaccepting (except, again, of sin), and neither name-call nor engage in bigotry. They do not insist on everyone becoming a Christian. Perhaps you are thinking of extreme Muslims. A Christian preaches the good news because he is commanded to in Scripture, and desires to see souls saved rather than damned in hell. But he does not insist on people becoming Christians, and indeed he knows that they cannot apart from God’s sovereign work in their hearts.
So, not only have you misrepresented Christians, but you’ve engaged in another ad hominem attack. If this is the most powerful argument you can muster by way of closing, I don’t hold out much hope for your further statements in this debate.